It has been more than 65 years since you died. It wasn’t a surprise because I knew about all those strokes you’d been having. At 12, I wasn’t prepared for the unremitting grief. I was inconsolable for months. So, many years later, I wonder why we had that profound connect. You only lived with us until my brother was born when I was almost six, then saw each other only a couple of times a year. My parents would drop me off for a week in the summer at that big, white, two-story house in South Pasadena you shared with Aunt Mimi. We’d spend the days together when Mimi was at work. I remember we played “Fish” and listened to those saccharine radio dramas. My favorite times came when you’d play the piano. I’m inevitably moved to tears even now when I hear “The Blue Danube Waltz,” the one I always asked you to play. We didn’t fight but we didn’t talk much, either. What was it that made me feel safe and accepted?
For many years after you died, I had repetitive, hauntingly vivid dreams about your return. I was standing on the front lawn as you slowly walked down the sidewalk toward me. I’d awaken with a start, my face covered with tears.
Like most adults, I experienced many other losses through the years. With each one, though, I would be reminded of you and how devastated I had been. I think it transformed my personality toward a distinctly melancholy bent.
To be honest, I didn’t really know you other than as my Nana. And the more I have learned, questions linger. You were born in England, married late for the times and cranked out nine children before the age of 40. My father was the youngest. When he was 11, you packed up the kids, boarded anocean liner, and made the long trip across the Atlantic, landing on Ellis Island to begin a new life – without your husband. Wow. You raised all those kids alone. Why didn’t you tell me your stories? What did you do when they were grown and gone? Who did you become?
Following the funeral, Mimi laid out your possessions on your bed, and invited family to go upstairs to select whatever they wanted. I tearfully made my way up those dark, foreboding stairs, when my senses were infused with the residual smell of your familiar lavender cologne. My eyes welled up when I saw you had saved all the little handmade gifts I had brought you over the years. Right away I knew I wanted the heavy quilt you had crocheted before I was born, the same one you kept on your bed when I stayed with you. Then, when my eyes landed on the little rectangular card that read, “There’ll Always Be an England,” I began to understand. Part of you never left, perhaps unable or unwilling to adapt to life outside the family unit. I treasure that card today.
Now, my own life is in its wintery decline, I am just a few years short of your age when you died. I wonder how you would view me, not to mention the radical social changes for women. Sad to say, I don’t think you would approve. But I know you’d love me, no matter what. I will never, ever forget the connection, that persistent, mysterious bond that will endure forever.
Pam Munter has authored several books including When Teens Were Keen: Freddie Stewart and The Teen Agers of Monogram, Almost Famous, and As Alone As I Want To Be. She’s a former clinical psychologist, performer and film historian. Her essays, book reviews and short stories have appeared in more than 150 publications. Her play, “Life Without” was nominated by the Desert Theatre League and she has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize. Pam has an MFA in Creative Writing and Writing for the Performing Arts. Fading Fame: Women of a Certain Age in Hollywood was published in 2021.